TMR Playbook December: Fools Collaborative welcomes out-of-town guests for virtual ‘Joyful Noise’

A monthly compilation of news, notes, links, last-minute picks and general musings about the arts scene and Fresno life. Some briefs link to longer stories. Check back for updates.

In this edition of TMR Playbook:

A virtual ‘Joyful Noise’ from The Fools Collaborative (Dec. 22)  NEW
Fresno Philharmonic postpones Masterworks tapings, but January’s concert is already in the can (Dec. 18)  
Zoom with violin virtuoso Donald Weilerstein and Youth Orchestras of Fresno (Dec. 12)  
Glued to the tube: ‘One Night Only’ with Tina Fey on Thursday; ‘The Prom’ on Friday (Dec. 10) 
Arts Bits: Unitarian Universalist musical showcase, Betsy Wolfe performs (Dec. 5)


If you look really closely, you can see me (Donald Munro) holding a candle in the audience for last year’s ‘Joyful Noise’ performance from The Fools Collaborative.

A virtual ‘Joyful Noise’ from The Fools Collaborative

The Fools Collaborative is developing a fine holiday tradition with its annual benefit “Joyful Noise.” This year’s version is virtual, of course.

The premiere: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23, on the Fools Facebook page.

The lineup from afar: Here’s where a virtual production can get really special. This year’s show includes performances from a number of former Fresnans who have scattered throughout the land, with contributions from Daniel and Taylor Abels Rodriguez, Joshua Anderson, Jacq Babb, Sharon Burley, Emma DenBesten, Dominic Grijalva, Patrick Nalty and Sarah Waxman.

The lineup from near: There’s a robust contingent from the Fresno area as well, including Brooke Aiello, Ren Burley, Kristin Crase, Camille Gaston, Mitchell Lam Hau, Jessica Meredith, Brad Myers, Michelle Olson, Laramie Woolsey.


What’s promised: A dash of foolishness, a pinch of social commentary, a dose of silliness, and a heap of holiday cheer will blend together to make for an unforgettable evening of entertainment. “While some might view the virtual nature of the program as a downgrade, we actually feel like it’s created the potential for new types of performances,” writes Fools board member Miguel Gastelum. “And while we will definitely miss the in-person fellowship with our theatre family, this year we’ll be able to feature performers who now call places like New York, Florida, Nevada, Texas, and even South Korea home.”

Benefits of watching it live: You can chat with performers, partake in trivia, reminisce on holidays past, and potentially win some swag.

A bit about The Fools Collaborative: It’s a group of artists in the Fresno area that produces creative events for the express purpose of bringing awareness to, and raising funds for, an assortment of community, charitable, environmental, and social justice-orientated causes.

Donations: The event is free. Donations are suggested to United Way Fresno and Madera Counties Creek Fire Resident Relief Fund. Donations can be made via GiveLively or by texting “CREEKFIREHELP” to 44321. In conjunction with The Revue Coffee Shop, the Fools will also be collecting new and gently used masks to send to members of the Standing Rock reservation from now through the end of January. Mask donations can be dropped off at the Revue during normal business hours at 620 E Olive Ave. in the Tower District.

My take: I love “Joyful Noise” and try to make it in person every year. No one can put a better spin on a holiday song than a musical-theater actor. It’ll be a little different (and a little sad) having to watch it from home this year, but I really like the fact that I get to see some faraway familiar faces. Highly recommended.

(Posted Dec. 22)

Fresno Philharmonic

Conductor Rei Hotoda in rehearsal for an upcoming Masterworks streaming concert event.

Fresno Philharmonic postpones Masterworks tapings, but January’s concert is already in the can

The not so good news: The Fresno Philharmonic had to shut down its December shooting schedule because of the increased severity of the pandemic.

The better news: “We are on schedule for our first release,” says Stephen Wilson, the orchestra’s CEO. The orchestra was able to complete a week of recording sessions before Fresno County had to move in early December into the most restrictive Covid tier. That meant music director Rei Hotoda and her musicians were able to record all of the first Masterworks concert (premiering Jan. 16) and get most of the second concert (premiering Feb. 20) done as well. (The orchestra did not record programs in strict order.)

The safety precautions: Social distancing was scrupulous at the Shaghoian Hall during rehearsals and filming. All musicians went through health screenings beforehand, and all wind and brass players were tested beforehand for Covid 48 hours prior to playing. Other precautions: a wide range of cleaning and disinfecting procedures; masking and distancing strategies; and players were placed on stage farther apart than usual. More breaks than normal were taken to promote air circulation.

The impact: “It was really moving to hear our musicians playing again,” Wilson says.

The goggles: Hotoda is prepared when she travels.

(Posted Dec. 19)



Are you worried about our young people during the pandemic?

I sure am, particularly our student artists missing out on the formative educational opportunities that can be so important in the lives of budding actors, dancers, musicians and visual artists. But then I think about what the Youth Orchestras of Fresno is up to, and I’m heartened.

The orchestras can’t play together right now, of course, but they’re still meeting … virtually. And thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of Julia Copeland, the organization’s executive director, and Thomas Loewenheim, the musical director, those Zoom rehearsals are extra special.

Here’s the best part: You, as a member of the general public, can drop in via Zoom and partake of amazing guest artists. On Sunday, Dec. 13, a master class for students will be conducted by Donald Weilerstein, the famed violinist. He will appear at 3:30 p.m.

Weilerstein founded the Cleveland Quartet in 1969, becoming its first violinist. He has concertized around the world and teaches at the New England Conservatory and Juilliard.

He’s also the father figure in a remarkable musical family. A few weeks ago, Copeland welcomed four immensely talented Weilersteins — Donald; his wife, Vivian Hornik Weilerstein; his daughter, Alisa Weilerstein (a MacArthur Fellow and solo cellist); and his son, Joshua Weilerstein, artistic director of the Artistic Director of the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne — to a Youth Orchestras discussion.

You can watch on YouTube:

So, how do you listen to Donald Weilerstein’s master class? All you need to do is fill out a Youth Orchestras friend signup form. You’ll receive a Zoom link in return. If you come early, at 2 p.m., you’ll be able to sit in on string sectionals for an hour, then a short theory/ear training class from 3 to 3:30, followed by the main event.

It turns out that one of the positive impacts of remote interaction is that notable people can zip into our lives from any part of the world. And, because Zoom makes it easier to sit in on a session unobtrusively, it makes it easier for people to “lurk” (with permission, of course) while still enjoying the experience. I highly recommend joining the fun on Sunday afternoon. You’ll be impressed at the lengths that our local music educators are going to keep the creative spark alive during these tough times.

(Posted Dec. 12)


Glued to the tube: ‘One Night Only’ with Tina Fey on Thursday; ‘The Prom’ on Friday

I’m not one who considers himself tethered to network/streaming TV schedules these days, but the next two evenings are an exception. I’ve been awaiting ‘One Night Only,’ a two-hour NBC special two-hour special celebrating Broadway and featuring street performances from some of its most popular shows, for weeks.

From Deadline:

Fey, Tony-nominated for her musical “Mean Girls,” will welcome the casts of “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations,” “Chicago,” “Jagged Little Pill,” “Diana: The Musical,” “Jersey Boys,” “Mean Girls,” “Rent” and an appearance by the cast of the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” The special also will offer sneak peaks at some Broadway shows planned for 2021.

Everyone’s getting creative these days in terms of staging theater during the pandemic. This special favors street performances, which will make it sort of a cross between the Tony Awards and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I want to be watching when it’s broadcast and not the next day, ad-free on Hulu, which means I am willing to sit through the commercials. That’s dedication.

Donations raised during the “One Night Only” special will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, helping to provide groceries and medication, health care and emergency financial assistance to those in the Broadway community struggling through the pandemic shutdown.

Friday’s big TV event, meanwhile, is the long-awaited Netflix version of the musical “The Prom,” a 2018 Broadway offering that I have been listening to incessantly for the past year and a half. Like many musical-theater fans, I winced a bit when I learned that Meryl Streep landed the leading role played by the incomparable Beth Leavel in New York, and I have decidedly mixed feelings on James Corden starring in a musical anything after watching him rotundly roll around the confines of the egregious “CATS” movie musical — especially after replacing the wildly talented Brooks Ashmanskas from the Broadway show — but, hey, I’m also a realist. I know that Hollywood usually demands big stars for Broadway projects. I’m keeping an open mind for Streep, Corden and the rest of the all-star cast of “The Prom.”


More than anything, I’m pumped up to see a movie version of a Broadway musical that didn’t take two decades to make it to the big screen. I’ll be there on “opening day,” though I’ll probably wait until Friday evening to partake. Somehow, a 12:01 a.m. viewing when the streaming window opens doesn’t sound very appealing.

Here’s a good roundup from Broadway World about “The Prom.”

Another thing of interest: The national tour of “The Prom” is scheduled to play in Los Angeles July 6-Aug. 8, 2021. Obviously, that’s a tentative date because of the pandemic. San Francisco isn’t listed yet on the national-tour schedule.

I’ll check back in over the weekend with my thoughts about both extravaganzas. Until then, Happy Broadway-ing!

(Update 12/13: Here’s my take on “The Prom,” along with guest critic James Ward.)

(Posted Dec. 10)


UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST MUSICAL SHOWCASE: Music is a big part of most churches, and parishioners of many faiths have been missing it tremendously in live services. But for the next best thing, consider a virtual performance. Lorenzo Bassman’s big concert for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno (7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6) features many of the remarkable vocalists and instrumentalists from the church’s Sunday morning services. Titled the “Lorenzo & Company Musical Fundraiser,” the event will feature top-notch technical production values. “I hope you have a nice sound system,” Bassman tells me, “or at least a pair of headphones/earbuds, because you’ll want to experience the sound engineering in full HD stereo.”

Proceeds go to the church’s general fund.

Suggested ticket price is $25 for an individual and $50 for a family, but consider making an “angel” donation for any amount above those prices, Bassman says. “If your financial situation prohibits you from donating this much then please just give what you can! Really, really. Small amounts are just fine. We don’t want anyone turned away.”

You can buy tickets here.

A video promo for the event:

•  •  •

BETSY WOLFE PERFORMS: Fans of the Visalia-native-turned-Broadway star won’t want to miss Wolfe’s livestream event, titled “A Pants Optional Holiday” (4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6). First off, I gotta love that title. She describes the show “as expanding her quarantine bubble for an exclusive first time collaboration with the effervescent Jessica Vosk. Featuring holiday classics, Broadway hits, and an exclusive show stopping tune with special lyrics by Jill Twiss and Taylor Ferrera. Featuring Music Director Meg Zervoulis on keys and Justin Goldner on guitar.”

Here’s a promo:

I’ve said it before: The arts are suffering greatly because of the pandemic, but one of the few bright spots is the way we can remain connected with people at a distance. Sure, a virtual concert with Wolfe isn’t going to be quite the same as the live events she’s given in her hometown on several memorable locations. But it will still be a lot of fun, I’m sure. It’ll be great to hear Wolfe’s beautiful voice once again.

Tickets are $20.

There’s another great opportunity to view a performance by Wolfe this season: She stars in the new streaming Broadway musical “Estella Scrooge,” which was released Dec. 1 and can be viewed on demand through Jan. 31. Described as a “world premiere streaming holiday musical that uniquely blends theatre, film and cutting-edge animation,” Wolfe plays a
young Wall Street tycoon with a penchant for foreclosing:

A hotelier in her hometown of Pickwick, Ohio has defaulted on his mortgage loan and Estella fancies the idea of delivering the foreclosure in person on Christmas Eve. Arriving at Harthouse, Estella discovers that the defaulting party is none other than her childhood sweetheart, Pip Nickleby (Clifton Duncan, The Play That Goes Wrong) and Estella, like her ancestor Ebenezer, is haunted by three uninvited visitors.

Tickets start at $24.99.

•  •  •

A REMINDER: 2021 season tickets for Children’s Musical Theaterworks can be purchased for a special promotional price of four shows for the price of three.

The season tentatively opens Feb. 5 with a socially distanced rehearsed and performed production of “Matilda: The Musical.” (The opening date is subject to change due to the pandemic, of course.) Director Julie Lucido has some exciting things planned for the show.

As the holidays approach, we all need to remember that in these uncertain times, never have season ticket purchases meant more. They can be a way for financially wobbly arts organization stay afloat and plan for the future. Consider it an investment in our community’s arts future.

You can purchase season tickets here.

(Posted Dec. 5)

The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (1)

  • Jackie Ryle

    Just viewed the remarkable production of Detroit ’67 by Fresno State Theater Department; Thomas Will Ellis Director and amazing cast and crew. Very well done and very powerful. Thanks Donald for helping make sure we are all aware of what is taking place, and providing links to get us there. This is an outstanding show!


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